Friday 23 August 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'No matter the team, Kilkenny's shadow can make you crumble'


Kilkenny's Joey Holden hunts down Cork's Patrick Horgan. Holden's switch back to play as a sweeper turned the tide for the Cats. Photo: RAY MCMANUS
Kilkenny's Joey Holden hunts down Cork's Patrick Horgan. Holden's switch back to play as a sweeper turned the tide for the Cats. Photo: RAY MCMANUS

Brendan Cummins

Kilkenny have a certain trait, one that differentiates them from the rest. In games you should be winning, games you're dominating, they're like a shadow: they follow you around and, as the game wears on, you start to feel their shadow coming over you.

Like a setting sun, there starts to be a certain inevitability about it. You feel them there and know they'll come back, no matter the score. Having stood in those Croke Park goals in the same scenario, I can empathise with Anthony Nash, who looked out midway through the second-half and felt the pressure coming back like a wave.

Nobody from Cork was showing for the ball on his puck-outs, everyone was frozen. When you're frozen like that Kilkenny just kill you. That's the difference.

In the first-half Cork had two great goal chances that they butchered. They should have been eight or nine up at half-time, not two. But when Kilkenny got the chance to put Cork away they went five, six, seven up very quickly.

How many times have we said a team has walked all over Kilkenny in the first-half, yet they're only a few points ahead? In a game of tug-of-war, when the other crowd are pulling harder, Cody's men are able to hold their position.

People go on about Cody not doing tactics, but the decision he made 10 minutes into the game was key.

The Cats were 1-3 to 0-1 down and the Cork full-forward line was running riot. But he moved Joey Holden back to stand on the edge of the 'D' and play as sweeper and that's how they stopped the bleed: Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan couldn't get on the same ball.

Pádraig Walsh was shadowing Cadogan and around the middle third Paddy Deegan, Conor Fogarty and the versatile Joey Holden thundered into the second-half.

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The game turned into an arm wrestle and when that's how it is, Kilkenny will win.

They just know they'll get a period of dominance eventually and when they did, they squeezed the Cork puck-out and killed them all over the pitch. The old failings of Cork came out: they couldn't win a puck-out when the pressure was on as they had no go-to man.

It's the same failings every year and they can't find a fix. Cork went long 25 times on puck-outs and won 11, and when they went short they just couldn't break down Kilkenny.

The argument against Kilkenny this year is that they need individuals to shine, but yesterday all their key men did just that.

When the Kilkenny half-back line got on top in the second-half TJ Reid and Walter Walsh got into the game, while Colin Fennelly, Billy Ryan and Bill Sheehan were buzzing around the Cork full-back line causing absolute havoc.

A semi-final with Limerick now awaits, but that will be a different test. Limerick can lean on their system against Kilkenny. They're bigger, their puck-out strategy will be more accurate, they'll have a better understanding of what they're trying to achieve and all those things can get Limerick across the line - along with the depth of their bench.

Leaving Croke Park, though, you couldn't help feeling for Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan. Their displays were like a coaching video of how to play full-forward, but Cork's failings were too much even for them to overcome.

They just don't have the bodies for that kind of game; they have no six-foot-plus half-forward. Back in 2017 they had a high-octane, high-energy puck-out strategy, but they've gone light years away from it now and the ball's not hitting the grass in the half-forward line for someone to run on to it.

They'll come away with questions, as will Tipperary, despite getting the win against Laois. Tipp's use of the ball and execution of passes was poor. It was all sluggish, lacklustre and that was the fear: that it was 'only' Laois and they'd play as such.

They tried to beat them early with goals but they should have taken point after point. Laois gave James Barry every puck-out like Limerick did and Tipp, again, didn't have a solution.

The big riddle to solve now for them is how to work the ball through the field with runners coming off the shoulder, because if you go long against Wexford, the sweeper will gobble it up and they'll keep counter-attacking.

As for Laois, they should walk away with immense pride, and not the condescending pride we often attach to underdogs. They've been outstanding, a team that played out of their skin three weeks in a row.

A side that will be back and better than ever in 2020.

Irish Independent

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